EASE of maintenance is the biggest perk of running the Angus breed for Gingin beef producer George Gifford who has been farming in the area with his wife Sally since the early 1990s.
The Gifford herd comprises 200 breeders which are joined to Angus bulls on the 445 hectare Gingin property.
It was quite the change when the family decided to migrate from England to a new life in Western Australia.
The Giffords came from a mixed farming business in England, but rearing cattle in the UK means farmers face a number of different challenges to the average Aussie beef producer, so George was surprised to see the hardiness of Australian cattle, particularly the Australian Angus.
“In England, we dealt with six months of winter every year and during that period you have a lot of hand feeding and close monitoring of the animals that you have to do,” George said.
“But here in Australia, I was amazed to see how resilient the cattle are which I put down to survival of the fittest.
“Cattle in Australia over the years have either handled the tough conditions well and were selected to continue breeding or they don’t survive.
“So what I see from that is Australian cattle have a lot more ‘get up and go’ in them.
“You see the calves hit the ground and get up very quickly to start suckling which is the first step towards a healthy animal in the future.”
George said when he was farming in England, he would often help cows calve down and nurse them when they struggled.
“Here in Australia though the mentality is more about making sure you select for animals that aren’t going to have those sorts of issues because you have bigger herds, bigger properties and don’t have that same level of interaction with the livestock,” he said.
“They need to be able to look after themselves to a degree.”
With that preference for resilient cattle in mind, George said he has tried quite the range of cattle breeds during his time, but settled on Angus as the ultimate breed for his operation.
“The Angus breed has a lot of things going for it these days,” George said.
“But the fact that they’re so low maintenance is the main trait which attracts me.
“I avoid hand feeding where possible and we don’t really do too much to our pastures here, but I can get away with that because the Angus can make the most of what feed and nutrition is available.”
George said he had no issues getting his calves to a good weight by the time weaning came around.
“Those weights have certainly improved over the years,” he said.
“When I bought this property, there were cattle on the place which I took on and they were a mix of various breeds including Hereford, Angus, Simmental and Shorthorn.
“Early on I ran Simmental and Limousin bulls over the cows, then I tried Murray Greys and Angus bulls which I liked and since then have continued to buy Angus bulls to put over the herd.”
When George first started farming in Gingin, his calves were tipping the scales at about a 300kg average when they were 9-11 months old.
But since focusing on making the most of quality Western Australian Angus genetics, George has seen those calf weights lift to average 350kg without any special treatment at all.
“Electing to go with the Angus has been a good decision for us,” he said.
“They’re very easy to run and we haven’t had any problems.”
George has most recently bought his bulls from Blackrock and Little Meadows Angus studs in the South West.
“I’m seeing the influence of those genetics come through and I’ve been very happy with their performance,” he said.
“But there are plenty of options in WA for good Angus genetics – there are a lot of very high quality cattle being bred at the moment and I like the way the breed in general is focusing on a more moderate and efficient animal rather than some of those really huge bulls we used to see a few years ago.
“I think the Angus breeders here are really focused on continually improving their genetics and it really does show in the bulls you see at auctions these days.”
When making his selections at a bull sale, George said conformation was number one, but he also singled out the intramuscular fat EBV as something to watch.
“I like to look at the breeding values and I think a bit of marbling is important,” he said.
“In the past few years I’ve been focusing on that IMF trait more which goes back to the idea that if they carry more fat, they can carry themselves through the summer a bit better.
“That’s particularly important for me because I prefer not to feed if I can avoid it so I want cattle that carry a bit of fat.”
George also looks at calving ease and birthweight, as well as growth rates in his bulls, but when it comes to retainer heifers, temperament is at the top of the priority list.
“I mean of course I look at all the usual things and if there is something wrong I won’t keep her,” he said.
“It comes back to the survival of the fittest idea – I want my cattle to be as good and as easy to run as possible so I don’t muck around holding onto any cattle that aren’t going to be as productive as possible.”
When asked if he’d ever go to a different breed George said he was very happy with the Angus influence on his operation.
“In my time I’ve had a bit of everything when it comes to cattle breeds,” he said.
“But I’ll always back the Angus because they’re really easy care cattle.
“I’ve never had any real health issues or other dramas with them and they do well on a simple kikuyu, ryegrass and clover diet.
“I just value the quality and productivity I get out of the Angus breed with really very little fuss.”